Doyle I. Zirkle was born at Mabie, Randolph County, West Virginia, to parents Eugene and Ella Margaret Wiseman Zirkle. Eugene and Ella’s busy household consisted of six children: Myrtle, Murrell, and Russell came before Doyle. Clarence (some records list him as Claudis; he died of croup at age six) and Maureen came along after Doyle, who was born on August 21, 1913. Another child, Burrel, died in infancy. Little is known of Doyle’s early life; an entry in Young American Patriots for S/Sgt. Doyle indicates he attended Harrison School and was a Methodist. The 1940 Federal Census states he had completed his first year of high school and his occupation was “coal loader,” while a death notice in the Elkins Inter-Mountain (August 2, 1944) notes he was associated with his father in the lumber business.
Doyle Zirkle was inducted into the U.S. Army June 15, 1942, at Elkins. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 314th Infantry Regiment, 79th Infantry Division. One of the original members of Company F when the unit was activated in June 1942, his first training was at Camp Pickett, Virginia. After almost two years of training at various camps throughout the states and in England, the unit was committed to action in Normandy, landing on Utah Beach on June 17, 1944. The 79th Division, along with the 4th and 9th Infantry Divisions, was part of the Army’s VII Corps with the main objective of capturing the strategic port city of Cherbourg on the Cotentin Peninsula. Company F had as its initial objective the capture of Fort du Roule, which was built into the cliffs overlooking Cherbourg along the southern route into the city. The action leading to the capture of Fort du Roule on June 26, 1944, resulted in the 2nd Battalion receiving a Presidential Unit Citation.
The July 27th edition of Stars and Stripes (Continental Edition), in a column entitled “Somewhere in France,” describes the action at Cherbourg thus:
An important factor in the fall of Cherbourg’s Fort du Roule was demolition of Nazi big guns which continued to fire from lower levels after the upper level had been seized. The men of the 79th Division regiment who braved heavy sniper fire to climb down the face of the cliffs and place dynamite charges in the gun openings have been cited. They were Staff Sgt. Paul Hurst, St. Joseph, Ma., who made the reconnaissance and led the demolition part; Tech Sgt. Walter Newman, Whitestone, N. Y., and Daniel F. Feojay, Plainfield, Conn.; Staff Sgt. Chester R. Walker, Baltimore, and Edward A. Hagedorn, Monett, Mo., and Sgt. Doyle Zirkle, Mabie, W. Va.
Individually, Doyle received a Silver Star for his role in the capture of Cherbourg; his citation for this action reads:
Sergeant Doyle Zirkle, 35383693, 314th Infantry, United States Army, for gallantry in action against the enemy on 25 June 1944 in France. When enemy artillery pieces were firing from well emplaced positions in a steep cliff and harassing friendly troops who were engaging the enemy in the streets of Cherbourg, below, Sergeant Zirkle volunteered to attempt the demolish the guns. He made his way down the face of the cliff, burdened with demolition charges and constantly exposed to enemy arms fire. The venture was made increasingly difficult and hazardous because a steady rain rendered the face of the cliff exceedingly precarious. Sergeant Zirkle unhesitatingly proceeded to place the explosive charges directly into the openings from which the enemy guns were firing and destroyed them. For his unflinching courage, initiative and devotion to duty, Sergeant Zirkle reflects highest credit on himself and the armed forces of the United States.
But the recognition received for their actions at Cherbourg did not permit the unit to rest on its laurels. After the capture of Cherbourg, the 79th participated in action in the hedgerow county with the objective of capturing the city of La Haye du Puits, a well-defensed German stronghold. Staff Sergeant Zirkle, along with many others, including Captain William Hooper, the Company Commander, and first Lieutenant Ed Geary, the Executive Officer, were killed in action on July 5. By the time La Haye du Puits was captured a few days later, Company F had lost more than half its members, either killed or wounded in action.
The battle for La Hay du Puits commenced on July 4, and by July 9, the town had been liberated, but at a heavy price. The 79th Division was largely responsible for its capture, aided by the 300th Engineers, who cleared the town of mines planted by the Germans. Along with La Haye du Puits, the 79th participated in battles for Montgardon and Montre Castre, bringing the number of casualties for these three actions to 5,000 killed or wounded. The fighting badly damaged the town, and the parish church lost one of its spires, which has never been replaced. The battle for La Haye du Puits was the last in Normandy for the 79th, which was drawn back to England. (Source: “La Haye-du-Puits, Rue de Barneville,” World War 2 Photofinder, 2014, accessed August 11, 2016, http://www.worldwar2-photofinder.com/city/basse-normandy/listing/la-haye-du-puits-rue-de-barneville/.)
The story of the 314th Infantry Regiment, 79th Infantry Division, has been well documented in print, with Sgt. Zirkle named in a number of instances. The 314th’s own booklet (The 314th Infantry Regiment in World War II) speaks of his role at Cherbourg on page 12:
To the 2nd Battalion went the job of silencing the big guns, which covered every move the midget-sized patrols were making down in the streets of Cherbourg. Under the direction of the Regimental Commander they tried dropping TNT charges on the gun apertures. As COL Robinson stretched over the edge to observe the explosions one charge went off prematurely blowing off not only the Colonel’s helmet, but the helmet of the Assistant Division Commander of the 79th Division BG Greer who was still with the 2nd Battalion on the upper levels of the fort. The next try was to send four sergeants down the cliff to set more charges. This effort also failed. SSG, later CPT, Paul Hurst of E Company set out to locate the apertures. Heedless of the enemy snipers spattering his path with near misses, he worked out a route to the gun tunnels. Returning to the 2nd Battalion on top of the fort he secured explosives and a squad of five volunteer demolition men to blast in the tunnel mouths. The demolition team consisting of T/SGT Daniel T. Deojay, T/SGT Walker Newman, SSG Edward A. Hagedorn, SSG Chester R. Walker and SGT Doyle Zirkle all of F Company followed SSG Hurst back through increased enemy fire to the gun apertures. Once they had set the charges and detonated them the guns of the fort were silent.
And of his role at La Haye on page 5:
Next morning [July 5], the artillery opened up with a fifteen-minute preparation at 0545 hrs, plastering a sunken road about 800 yards to the front of the 2nd Battalion that was figured for an enemy strong point. The figures were correct, the 2nd, took six hours to cover the half-mile interval its advance was stopped cold short of the road by a combination of small arms, artillery, and mortar fire. During the attack F Company lost CPT hooper, LT Geary, T/SGT Newman, and SGT Zirkle among others. It was not till 2035 hrs when tank support came up was the road cleared.
The story of Doyle’s company is told in The History of “Fox” Company: 314th Infantry, 79th Division (Czechoslovakia: August 1, 1945). The capture of Cherbourg is described in great detail, further emphasizing the enormous obstacles against which Zirkle’s company faced in silencing the guns at the bottom of the cliffs. It is in the discussion of the Battle for La Haye du Puits (pp. 13-14) that once again Sgt. Zirkle is mentioned:
We dug in around midnight and got up bright and early the next morning and pushed off again…. We had met up with the Jerry main line of resistance, which was along a sunken road bed. Casualties were heavy and the going was tough. It was in this batle that we lost our first officers. On this same morning we lost Lt. Geary, Captain Hooper, T/Sgt. Newman, Sgt. Zirkle and numerous others killed and wounded…. The next day we were to push off at daylight, the 3rd Bn. having moved up on our right. During the day we had numerous casualties mostly from artillery, but by late afternon we had reached and cut the main road leading to La Haye du Puits…. At this time only one officer remained with the company. He was 2nd Lt. Walter Flint who was technically in charge of the outfit.
Various morning reports indicate Doyle’s quick rise through the ranks; on May 16, 1944, while stationed at Lancashire, England, he was promoted to sergeant. On June 28, presumably as the result of his action at Cherbourg, he received a battlefield promotion to staff sergeant. Thus, while details of his early life are sketchy, at best, his heroic actions in France have been documented with some detail.
As was the case with many World War II casualties, S/Sgt. Doyle Zirkle would have been buried initially in an American military cemetery near where he fell. Eventually, however, his remains were returned to the States, and he was reinterred in the Zirkle Cemetery at Cassity, West Virginia. A death notice in the Randolph Review (December 22, 1948) states: “Funeral services for Staff Sergeant Doyle Zirkle were held from the Cassity Church on Sunday afternoon at 2 o’clock. The remains of the World War II soldier, who died in the service of his country, arrived last Thursday.” On December 23, 1948, his father applied for a military headstone for this brave son. While those who knew him best:his siblings:are deceased, he is now remembered and honored by nieces and nephews, one of whom bears his name.
Article prepared by Patricia Richards McClure, who gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Jim Biggs, supplier of many documents on which this article is based. Jim’s father served in Company F with Doyle Zirkle. August 2016
We honor you, Doyle Zirkle.